7/31/20: The Folly of Planning #poetry

7/31/20: The Folly of Planning #poetry

It’s an old and common sentiment

planning is a fool’s errand

Reader’s Digest

John Lennon

Al Roker!

Robert Burns

my father

the guy next door probably

it doesn’t take a genius

or a poet

to see it

Life is beyond our control

Roker gives the sunny Today version

Life is a matter of being open to opportunity

My father was a contradiction

His example was improvisational

but he had plans for me

He wanted me to be a certain type of person

and so did most of the people around me

who were small town mediocrities in Rochester, New York

people whose entire constructs of their communal and individual lives

have disappeared

Kodak factory, sports, the Church. Italian-American social clubs

the primacy of doctors and lawyers and businessmen

the underclass of insecure and resentful worker bees


with the pose of moral certainty

All gone now

swept away by progress, revolution and death

The best laid plans of mice and men, beautiful boy

I close my eyes and I see the Great Flood

Nothing matters but what I think

The only thing possible is what is possible

Dad had a friend that he knew from playing and coaching soccer

A Scottish guy named Andy McKay

He saw that my father was making a mistake with me

Dad said I was a dreamer, and lazy

Andy said I was a hard worker

I come from working class people

Andy wasn’t highly educated

But he saw that I was a writer

and he gave me a collection of poems by Robert Burns

I didn’t even realize this act of empathy and kindness

until this morning

about fifty-five years later

Andy is long gone

and so is my father

Did my father love me?

I’m not sure

It doesn’t matter now

I think he did

but not enough

from my limited point of view

I planned for my father to be an endless source of wisdom and love

unconcerned for his needs and psychology

I needed love that went beyond his plans

I needed him to put me first

to be there for me

not to have his own conflicts and frustrations

not for him to be in exile from his true self

not for him to be a sensitive kid burdened by other people’s plans

(he was fun and he did what he wanted and he was creative and funny and he could be very nice and he wasn’t serious and he disrespected social status in a wise and strong way … he was charismatic … he praised me as often as he criticized me, often for things that I didn’t think were important — you’re good looking ! —- but he was very concerned about all that was best and most important in me — he had plans — I was smart — I was supposed to become a rich lawyer — two things that I had no interest in — wealth or practicing law — he terrorized me as a kid — I was afraid all of the time — he was an orphan — abandoned by his mother and sent to a fascist school — I was my mother’s favorite and a whole psychological struggle was going on here too — I was a fat kid and he challenged me to a foot race — he was a jock and he beat me in the race  — I was supposed to fail for him and then get abused by him for failing — of course I succeeded a lot at the things that I was good at it, and those things were dismissed as unimportant — I loved him and got involved with a lot of people like him who weren’t the best choices for me — I still love him — I think he did the best that he could and I believe he really loved me too — but I am not him and I never wanted his plans for me — I think that bothered him the most — he would say —- Your brother always listens, you do what you please … you have all of the answers …. He never controlled me … I never felt that I had to obey him — it was unplanned, but my relationship with my father made autonomy and equality natural things for me … My father had a sentimentality about his mother, America, the American Dream, “winning” that I just didn’t share … I am smarter than my father was, but I am not deeper — I’m pretty deep and I get that from him … He was very active and very reflective … he was sexually abused as a child by fascist priests and he was never abusive to anyone — but remained sentimental about the Church to honor his mother who sent him to the school where the priests molested him — and I guess I had to follow his legacy and seek out such undeserved pain …. my father and I are one — I am my father — shaped by the unintended consequences of misguided plans)

and his own strategy for survival

which unconsciously directed his being

not his bullshit ideas about how a man should be or how the world was

not by his wrong headed conclusions about the nature of reality

his love of power and recognition

neither of which he received in great quantities

I’m not angry at the memory

or even hurt

I can’t plan out who my father was

God didn’t give me what I needed in my father

God gave it to me in Andy McKay

It didn’t take a long relationship

Just assisting Andy with some work project in our basement

and getting a surprise gift of a book of poetry

Really a perfect gift

A personal expression of the giver — Scottish pride

with an understanding of the recipient — a writer

Years later I went out with a woman who worked in my agent’s office

She was the daughter of a college professor from Winnipeg, Canada

She gave me a copy of Moby Dick

She saw that I wasn’t meant for the auditions that she was sending me on

But I had plans

I followed a map

and I got lost


Plans about who I was

Plans about what a man was that my father “taught” me

Plans with confidence in the fairness and morality and possibilities of the world

that Rochester, New York was so stupidly sure of

Battered by the world

and the criticism of my father and his surrogates

and the unplanned truth of my soul

that perceptive kind people saw

like Andy and the agent’s assistant

My plans took me away from a world of kindness and creativity

and into a world of commerce and competition

for which I was wholly unequipped

Truth, beauty, words

ethics, kindness

this was the unplanned core

A former student asks me for a letter of recommendation

why I wonder

who needs schools

schools have been swept away in the tsunami

I never learned anything in schools

Just live

follow what interests you

take what comes and be where you like

If you want to do something apprentice with someone who does it

If you want to learn something read about it

Once you know how to read and write and think

You don’t need schools and all that bullshit

I went to lots of schools

It was all planned

It’s the reason I am a lawyer

But I learned about law when I prepared for the bar exam

and then worked at it

I never had a teacher or even a mentor in the law

I figured it out on my own

I taught in schools

that’s over now

Good riddance

I did a good job

but it was just a job

Anything I did for my students that meant anything was more like Andy McKay than a college professor

I did all sorts of improvisational acting workshops

as a student and teacher

didn’t learn a damn thing

I look at the Facebook page where all of the improv “teachers” market their classes

the teachers and their classes all look childish to me

and I mean all — no exceptions

not much different than being a recreation director on a cruise ship

My life has been a life of executing misbegotten plans

Listening to people who had their heads up their asses

and missing the kind whispers of people who cared for me and had some insight as to who I am

… and the true nature of the world of man which is a lot less wonderful than they thought in Rochester

You might think I am filled with regret

The opposite is true

The folly of planning was my opportunity

It gave me a chance to feel the world

It hurt

not just see the world

that’s art class shit

just seeing

Plans lead to the unplanned thing


I doubt that I am different than you

We have all of these vectors of our being

The first is who we really are

a unique soul

and then there is the force of the illusions of the people that we are close to

and finally is the burden of our plans

which lead us to all forms of disappointments

we pursue happiness and find something else

Eventually we reflect

and after a lot of hard work

our disappointments become understanding

we learn by living

about ourselves and the world

and how we and the world get in the way

of our understanding of what is

Once in a while

there is a congruence between our hearts, our understanding and the true opportunities that the world presents

and in those moments we are fulfilled

and we know it

But we are always fulfilled

whether we know it or not

There is no escaping

who we are

or the influences that fate has impressed upon us

or the reality of the world

Plan what will be?


Discover what is

and let it take you where it takes you.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas












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